Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dolores: Seven Stories About Her, by Bruce Brooks

Dolores is not your typical girl. She doesn't care what you think of her. She isn't afraid of strangers. She likes the yoyo. And odd obscure music. And she can handle herself in a Lexus with a horny guy lusting after her ample chest. And she does the best cheers. That's about all you need to know about Dolores.

This very short book is actually seven short stories, that share Dolores in common, although they take place in different moments of her life. Some of the stories are absolutely hiliarious, while others will leave you scratching your head. That makes for an uneven read, but the ones that are good, are REALLY good, and Brooks does wonders at blowing the top off of YA conventions.

If you thought Criss Cross rocked, you'll like the non-story flow of this book for the same reason. But if you thought Criss Cross was pompous trash (like I did) then you'll still like this collection.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I Am Not Esther, by Fleur Beale

One day, out of the blue, Kirby's mother announces that they are moving away. But before they even reach their destination, Mom admits that she's really leaving Kirby off with some distant relatives that Kirby's never heard of before, and leaving to go overseas for a few months. Before Kirby has had a chance to adjust to this news, she's thrust into a family in an austere Christian cult. Confused and hurt by her mother's abandonment, Kirby (now called Esther) has to find the inner strength to survive.

Gripping and entertaining, this is good escapist fiction. Nothing here to really mark it as a classic or even as a particularly strong book, but it has good entertainment value. The writing is smooth, the characters interesting, although the ending is a bit rushed and I found it a bit disappointing.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Holly's Secret, by Nancy Garden

When 12-year-old Holly's family moves to Massachusetts from the Big Apple, she decides to implement The Plan -- changing her name to Yvette and creating a glamorous vision of herself as more feminine, bolder with boys, and interested in things like cheerleading and ear piercings. But most of all, the new Yvette will have a normal family -- with a Mom and a Dad -- instead of Holly's two Moms.

A book obviously intended with a political message -- or to feed a market for people who read books for a political message, and thus a hard book to read for its own merits.

Putting that aside, we end up with a fairly straightforward middle reader story about how lying can come back and bite you and how good friends don't judge you for stupid things. Both of these messages good ones for kids to read about. The story has good pacing and good characters, albeit the good guys are a bit too good and the bad guys a bit too bad. There isn't much room for gray when you have a mission to accomplish!

Predictable but functional.

Child X, by Lee Weatherly

Jules life is heading along swimmingly. She tries out for a part in Northern Lights and gets the lead. Her biggest problems are the mean girl at school who bullies her and the fact that her parents keep fighting. But then one day her father moves out and won't talk to her. She knows it's her mother's fault but for some reason her father keeps holding it against her as well. And then the media starts to show up.

A bit on melodrama, but this is a pretty gripping story about a pretty normal English schoolgirl whose life gets very turned upside down by legal controversy and paparazzi. It's a good fun read, although a bit devoid of deep substance (that's OK, not everything has to have substance!).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

All Rivers Flow to the Sea, by Alison McGhee

Rose and Ivy were in a car accident and Rose survived. Ivy ended up nearly brain dead and kept alive with ventilators -- not quite dead and not quite alive. In the months after the accident, Rose tries to piece together her life, but all she can find is a textbook about wars, a series of boys who she tries to use to take her pain away, and an older man who has also suffered loss, and teaches her to drive.

Beautifully written, but largely pointless. My synopsis does more credit to the plot than it deserves as this is largely an exercise is writing pretty prose, not really in telling a story. Be prepared to snoooooooooooooooze.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Queen of Second Place, by Laura Peyton Roberts

Cassie believes everyone has a talent. Whether it's Quentin's ability to find parking places, Fitz's ability to find the longest line, or Casiie's own talent at always coming in second place. But those ideas are all about to come under serious fire when Cassie meets Kevin and decides that she will be his girlfriend, even so uber-sexy Stirling has already set her eyes on the guy.

All of which makes this novel sound like a vacuous boy-crazy book, which it really isn't. Roberts's writing is great and witty and Cassie is so much the best friend that you wish you had in school. That makes her trials and tribulations really fun to follow her through and the payoff in the end when things end up...well, end up pretty much as you have to expect them to (enough said!). It's a pretty long read, but it's a good one!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Half and Half, by Lensey Namioka

When Fiona Cheng has to indicate her race on a class registration form, she doesn't know which box to check. She's half Chinese and half Scottish. And as the Folk Festival comes up, Fiona gets an opportunity to explore her notions of her own identity and those of her friends as well.

Fairly basic by-the-numbers middle reader about racial identity. No major crises, Fiona solves all of her family's problems, and everyone is very happy in the end. It's warm, it's caring, it may even teach a valuable lesson or two, but it doesn't really have much substance behind it and the clunkiness of the prose will keep this out of the limelight.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Light Years, by Tammar Stein

Maya leaves Israel to come study in Virginia, but she is leaving more than her homeland, she is leaving behind the place where her first love, Dov, was murdered by a suicide bomber. Unable to cope with the grief from that loss (and her role in causing it), she retreats into nightly runs and her love of astronomy.

An almost certainly autobiographical look at being a foreign student in the US and coming to terms with a homeland that offers both beauty and pain (whether the dead boyfriend actually happened or not is irrelevant), Stein creates a world that is probably unknown to most Americans. The chapters that take place in Israel, in particular, portray a world that will be fascinating to anyone who has never been there.

My major reservation is that I don't think this is really a YA book. It will probably be most of interest to younger adults, but most likely in the 18 and up category. That doesn't mean that kids shouldn't read it (and won't enjoy it), but as a story that begins when Maya is already 18 and out of school, people will enjoy this book as an adult book.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bittersweet, by Drew Lamm

Taylor has always had plenty of ideas for pictures, but after her grandmother is taken to a nursing home, Taylor can't deal. She loses all inspiration and falls into a slump where she can't manage to draw a thing, and where she loses interest in life itself, casually accepting whatever comes her way, whether it is her friends or a guy hitting on her.

This is a soul wrenching rumination on loss and how we cope with it. It starts off very strong and ends on a predictable sad note. But in between, the story meanders, not that much unlike Taylor's own depression. The problem is that a meandering plot just isn't all that interesting to read. There's very little dramatic arch and characters wander in and out without sparking much interest. A distant father suddenly becomes less distant and then just fades away from the story, as if life going well isn't worth living or talking about. Aimless and in need of serious editing.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Missing Abby, by Lee Weatherly

When Abby goes missing and Emma realizes that she's the last one who's seen her, it triggers a torrent of memories -- about the fun they used to have together, and about how Emma ran away from their friendship because Abby got too embarassing to be with (with her Goth fantasies and other non-trendy stuff). As days turn to weeks, and the chances of finding Abby diminish, Emma comes to the realization that she's lost a real friend.

Moderately predictable, but satisfying story with an edge of suspense (about as much danger as Brit YA Lit ever seems to allow -- have you ever noticed that the kids in UK children's lit are on such tighter leashes than the Yanks?). Some nice unorthodox friendships (where things don't necessarily work out) and less unusual parents (who go rather abruptly from being unreasonable to being totally cool). A mixed bag, but not a wasted read.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Peaches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Reluctantly, three girls (Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy) find themselves spending Spring Break and then the entire summer together at the darlington peach orchard, where they learn a lot about boys, peaches, and friendship.

The novels reads like a movie treatment and perhaps it would make a good one, but it's all a bit too distant and I never found myself getting inside any of the main characters. I kept being told what they were feeling or deciding, but never quite understanding it for myself, and so I found myself cut off. It might be the multitude of characters or the third-person style, but in any case, not really so much fun to read. Great ideas, occasionally funny bits (especially all the cute random asides), but ultimately unfulfilling.